Week 6 – VLE and PLEs

This week has been very stimulating.  

I am very familiar with VLEs having worked with MyEnglishLab as a teacher and now providing advice and support for this blended learning VLE as well as promoting it in my role as ELT consultant. The platform is often integrated into moodle and now I am using moodle myself for this masters course as a student which has a different perspective. 

The main debate regarding learning environments is how much formal and how much informal learning should take place. Formal learning is institutionally provided and takes place in a VLE – Virtual learning environment. Informal is autonomous learning and is found in a PLE – personal learning environment.

I think that how much informal learning is considered an appropriate amount is very dependent on the subject area. Language learning, medicine, law and engineering to name but a few, have certain core competencies that have to be mastered. In this respect, giving a student a free hand to explore and map out their own path could be time consuming, inappropriate and a minefield. 

Naturally, I have my own PLE and it was interesting (and a little surprising) to see how much digital technology we now use in our day to day lives on many different levels when we mapped out our PLEs on paper.  

Here is my PLE: 

When compiling this I forgot to include ‘traditional technologies’ such as pen and paper, textbooks, maps etc. that I use in my everyday life. This omission also occurred in the readings which concentrated on digital technology in PLEs e.g. Weller (2007). Does this mean that these tools are now invisible technology? 

Here are some reflections on the topics I have read this week: 

Atwell (2007) described PLEs well as “small pieces, loosely connected”. It becomes a task of the student to put the information together to follow their learning path and reach their goals under the watchful eye of the teacher. The student does not remain passive and they use digital and networks to look for and share information Castañeda & Soto (2010). 

So, what does the role of the teacher become when learning becomes student centered and student driven?  In the VLE is dead video Drexlar (2009) the teacher becomes a guide and provides support. The teacher assumes an important role in the student’s learning journey but not the in the traditional sense as a teacher of subject matter. Rather, they must provide instruction on how to use the tools and determine the authenticity and applicability of the information the students discover. As they move away from traditional teaching should teachers perhaps be renamed Information Management Facilitators? Indeed, is this new role being taught to burgeoning teachers today? 

The wealth of information currently available from many sources is sometimes now overwhelming and it continues to expand. This is one of my biggest worries for the use of PLEs by students. How will students decide which tools to use? How are they placed to determine the efficacy of the information? Could it be that they spend a lot of time learning how to use an instrument only to be told it is not fit for purpose? How will they sort the wheat from the chaff? This consideration of quality and appropriability was not discussed in Cousin, G., (2006). 

Mesquita, A.,  Moreira, F., Peres, P., (2016) proposed the idea of a customized learning environment whereby access is provided to a pre-determined range of resources from which students can choose to use in their PLE. By doing this, and limiting the range of tools and resources available, the questions regarding quality of information and time needed to learn to use the tools and resources is addressed. It blends the formal and informal learning into a manageable, safe environment for exploration by the student. Naturally, some students may choose to work outside this prescribed space and so this may have to be accounted for in assessment. 

Here is their representation of it: 

Customized Learning Environment 
Social Networks 
LMSs 
TOOL 
Communication 
interface 
Teachers

Figure 1 – Proposed model  Mesquita, A.,  Moreira, F., Peres, P., (2016) 

Some antagonists of this model may consider that it detracts from the flexibility and spontaneity of a totally liberal PLE but that may be the price that has to be paid for security, safety and to allow use within time constraints and account for the continuing need for assessment. 

Through the readings, I have come to believe that the distinction between VLE and PLE need not necessarily be a clear demarcation as proposed by Weller (2007). I think there is a place, particularly in language teaching/learning, for a combination of the two. 

This idea developed as I worked my way through the readings and was re-enforced after I visited an extremely  innovative self-learning project for German being launched at the Volkshochschule (VHS) in Wiesbaden (https://www.vhs-wiesbaden.de/kontakt/projekte/lernzentrum/). This project also exemplifies the customized learning environment Mesquita, A.,  Moreira, F., Peres, P., (2016) 

In Wiesbaden the students can come and go as they want, use the available digital and traditional resources, tools and hardware, receive advice from instructors, plan their learning journey and interact with one another to learn German all on a platform supplied by the VHS. It will be interesting to see how the project develops over the coming year during which it is receiving finance from the government. 

The VLE could provides a controlled and quality assured space to develop PLEs. This is customised learning environment (CLE) proposed by Mesquita, A.,  Moreira, F., Peres, P., (2016) 

An interesting point was raised by Sahar Kahn, MADLT 2019-20 in the forum – “Is ‘tree logic’ truly detrimental to PLEs?” This prompted me to develop this idea further and apply tree logic to the fuzzy border between VLE and PLE in a CLE and to produce a diagram that explains the idea.  

My idea: Tree diagram of CLE 

There are certain things that are fundamental in language learning such as basic sentence structure and tenses. These are essential foundations and scaffolding for further exploration, practice and self-learning. A VLE is well suited to supply this in a safe environment and to allow for progression on to a PLE by providing access to suitable quality assured tools and resources. This is represented by the roots and trunk of the tree. 

Student centered autonomous learning Drexler (2010) could be encouraged to provide the canopy of branches and leaves which represent the host of opportunities self-learning offers.  

Goals are absolutely necessary in PLE and the route needs to be mapped. How else will students know if they are on the right path and achieving their potential? The branches of the tree show the possibilities. Hopping across branches may indicate short cuts students could take.

Tools and resources could be the sun which helps the tree to produce energy and grow. The water and fertiliser that the tree also needs to grow would be the advice and support.  

The tree will pass through seasons. Times when procrastination persists – autumn, periods when obstacles are encountered I.e. technical hitches – winter. Times when new energy develops – spring and a new direction emerges – summer.  

If vital elements are missing the tree will not survive, so guidance and support are vital at all stages of the learning process.  

Naturally, there is also the life within the tree such as insects and birds and these represent the socio-cultural elements involved in autonomous learning whereby new tools and resources may be discovered and incorporated and accepted into the system. Squirrels leaping from tree to tree could show sharing of ideas and tools between students. 

Cross-pollination with another tree shows how the system may be shared with institutions and how the system can also utilise ideas from this collaboration. 

There are of course natural enemies of a tree – viruses and animals that eat the leaves or fruit. These show the dangers of inadequate advice and support and the need to evaluate and provide guidance as to appropriate tools and resources. Notwithstanding this, there may be beneficial third parties such as symbiotic fungi or plants that co-exist with the tree such as mistletoe. These stand for tools and resources that exist outside the combined environment that learners may wish to use. Perhaps incidentally to the learning process as they advance and become more confident. 

There may be times when cutting back and pruning is needed or in extreme cases the tree may need to be felled and re-planted. This demonstrates the use of inappropriate tools or resources or unsuitability for students. 

Here is my diagrammatic representation of this idea.(A revised version of the one I posted on the forum.) It could perhaps even be developed further and form the basis of my second assessment. 

0 乙 一 4 / 0 ど 工 社 0 ド 
厚 Ⅳ の Ⅳ フ ら Ⅳ / Ⅳ タ Y フ / 
つ ツ グ ー ? ー プ 肪 
巨 
滝 内 臂 / 
亠 7 つ dd 丐 
9 ) い QV 
ml ( 丁 1 し 
0 
Q 
N ル 5 物 ) 0 プ c) 
57 ル 5 丿 
ON り バ 国 
bN ワ db 
3961

All in all, I think there is life in the VLE dog yet and that it may go on to be developed into a CLE. My  idea of the PVLE and the customized learning environment Mesquita, A.,  Moreira, F., Peres, P., (2016) seems to me like the best of both worlds and perhaps the way forward. 

References: 

Atwell, (2007) Personal Learning Environments – the future of eLearning?. eLearning papers, 2, 1. Available from http://www.elearningpapers.eu  

Castañeda, L. & Soto, J.,  (2010) Building Personal Learning Environments by using and mixing ICT tools in a professional way. digitalEDUCATION, 18 [http://greav.ub.edu/der/index.php/der/article/view/163] 

Cousin, G. (2006) Learning from cyberspace. In Land R. & Bayne, S. Education in cyberspace . London: RoutledgeFalmer 117-129 

Drexlar, W., (2010) The networked student model for construction of personal learning environments: Balancing teacher control and student autonomy. Australasian Journal of Educational Technology, 26, 3, pp. 369-385 

Manchester Alt-C (2009), The VLE is Dead – The Movie Available online: https://elearningstuff.net/2009/09/09/the-vle-is-dead-the-movie/ [Accessed 28.10.2019] 

Mesquita, A.,  Moreira, F., Peres, P., (2016) Customized learning environment: A new approach IEEE 11th Iberian Conference on Information Systems and Technologies (CISTI) Las Palmas, Spain 15-18 June 2016 

Weller, M., (2007) Virtual Learning enviroments: Using choosing and developing your VLE. Routledge: London and New York Chapter 3  

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